Opening address delivered by the Bord na gCon (Irish Greyhound Board) Chairman, Frank Nyhan, to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on Tuesday 9th July 2019.
“Chairman and Members of the Committee,
Thank you for the invitation to attend before you today, to discuss the RTE Investigates programme ‘Greyhounds: Running for their Lives’, broadcast on 26th June.
I am accompanied today by Denis Healy, Veterinary Director of the Irish Greyhound Board and wish to offer apologies on behalf of our CEO, Gerard Dollard who due to a long-standing commitment, is unavoidably absent.
At the outset, let me state that the Irish Greyhound Board unreservedly condemns the appalling practices evident on the RTE Investigates programme which have no place in the greyhound industry or indeed in any area of activity involving animals. I would like to further state that the welfare of the racing greyhound in Ireland is at the very core of what The Irish Greyhound Board does.
The Irish Greyhound Board or Bord na gCon - is the commercial semi-state body which is responsible for the control and development of the greyhound industry in the Republic of Ireland. The Board was established under special legislation by the Irish government in 1958.
In terms of governance, there are seven Board members (one position currently vacant) and as well as the CEO and Chief Financial Officer, the executive consists of the Veterinary Director, the Head of Regulation, and other executives. We have 238 employees (full time equivalents). The industry has some 7,300 owners and is estimated to be worth €300m to the national economy.
Greyhound welfare is a top priority for the Board and there is an ongoing proactive approach to ensure that animal welfare standards are consistently high throughout the industry. All reported incidents of greyhound cruelty and neglect are investigated and where breaches of the 2011 Welfare of Greyhound Act are identified, appropriate action is taken.
Addressing the recent televised expose on the treatment of greyhounds, it is right that RTE would highlight illegal behaviour and the sometimes appalling and egregious treatment of animals as a matter of public interest. The Irish Greyhound Board fully subscribes to and supports such an approach. However, we believe it is incumbent on the national broadcaster to provide factual and properly contextualised information.
Balance is also important and a glaring omission from the programme is the good practice and behaviour adopted by the significant vast majority of people involved in greyhound racing in Ireland, and the stringent legislative and regulatory framework in place to ensure general compliance and more importantly, animal welfare.
The Irish Greyhound Board co-operated with RTE and accommodated its requests to film at our various stadia. We responded to numerous Freedom of Information requests and editorial queries. We offered a ‘live’ interview on the issues raised during the course of RTE’s research. This offer however, was not taken up. We have requested a copy of all footage and documentation from RTE relating to the programme, to enable us to follow up on any allegations of the mistreatment of greyhounds or breaches of statutory regulation. We await same.
The programme, in many cases, used historic or out of context footage to highlight past poor welfare practices. It did not reflect the wider industry or the significant reforms that have been introduced by the Irish Greyhound Board in the last decade. It disregarded the thousands of genuine greyhound owners who love their greyhounds and their racing.
Arising from the programme, there are numerous areas to be highlighted.
In early 2017, As part of an examination of the IGB organisation and its structures, Preferred Results Ltd. undertook an analysis of the greyhound pool, although this did not form part of the brief. The analysis covered 2013 to 2015 and a detailed study of the 2009 greyhound pool. . The analysis was based on estimates and assumptions and lacked any empirical evidence base. This arises from the absence of a traceability system for greyhounds.
The data generated assumes 5,987 ‘unaccounted for’ dogs and that these dogs were culled. The Board did not accept the analysis as it did not reflect issues in the industry at the time where it was proving exceedingly difficult to fill scheduled race cards with racing greyhounds.
The greyhound racing industry of 2019 is an entirely different place to the greyhound racing industry of 2009 given the extent of reforms that have been made within the sector. The euthanizing of healthy greyhounds is not acceptable and the Board has recently taken measures to prepare a statutory regulation requiring that the euthanizing of a greyhound can only be undertaken by a veterinary practitioner.
The IGB’s responsibilities relate solely to the racing greyhound. It does not extend to cross breeds such as lurchers which featured prominently in the programme.
The programme highlighted EPO as being prevalent in greyhounds. The last recorded instance of EPO by the IGB was in 2005.
With regards to ear tampering, the Board is very aware of the historic cases featured in the programme, one from over a decade ago and one from 2013. In 2016, the IGB made it a regulatory requirement, and a condition of entry, that all greyhounds competing at licensed stadia were microchipped. This ensures that all greyhounds are identifiable and more importantly, linked to an owner.
Reference was made to only one disqualification order for doping offences. Under the 2015 regulations a greyhound is automatically disqualified from racing when an adverse analytical finding is declared and it remains disqualified until a clear test, free from prohibited substances, is returned.
The IGB has made very strong progress in the area of doping and medication. This is an issue for all sports but the enhanced regulation introduced by the IGB in 2015 and the successful defence of two High Court challenges to the IGB regulatory system in 2018 demonstrates that the current regime is robust. 5,288 samples were analysed by the National Greyhound Laboratory located at the IGB’s offices in Limerick in 2018.
I welcome the statistic outlined in the programme, if it is the case, that 80% of animal remedies seized by DAFM relate to the greyhound industry. This is a testament to the regulatory and integrity framework we have worked hard to achieve and implement.
We have received excellent cooperation from the agencies involved and particularly the Special Investigations Unit of Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, which holds the regulatory powers in relation to animal remedies. Inspections of premises have involved IGB personnel and the high level of seizures suggested in the programme sends a clear message to all, that illegal substances or animal remedies are not tolerated within the greyhound industry.
The early morning meeting at Kilcohan Park Greyhound Stadium in Waterford was featured in the programme and it was presented that the addition of early morning meetings would further increase greyhound pools. This is incorrect, The early morning meetings substitute for existing meetings. Kilkenny now schedules racing on a Wednesday morning in lieu of Wednesday night; and Kilcohan Park schedules racing for Thursday morning in lieu of the previously scheduled race meeting on a Friday night.
The programme outlined some appalling practices involving the treatment of animals allegedly in China. The footage in this case was quite disturbing and first appeared on the internet in 2015; and the practice was further reported in the Irish national media in 2016. The footage shown on the programme also displayed other breeds of dog.
The practices outlined in the programme relating to live animals are abhorrent. The IGB’s clear position is that exports of greyhounds should only take place to countries that have a strong animal welfare code. I am satisfied that the greyhound community in Ireland has been utterly shocked at such practices and has heeded the strong advice by the IGB regarding export of any animals to such countries.
The IGB, or any Irish regulator, is not responsible for the appalling attitude to wider animal welfare that may be evident in other countries. We will continue to do everything possible within our remit to prevent exports of greyhounds to countries that do not have acceptable animal welfare regimes. I should point out that Ireland is not in a position to restrict exports to any country but must operate under EU law and wider world trade agreements.
In terms of the IGB spend on welfare , the false impression was given on the programme that €100,000 was the amount spent from the allocation of €16.8m from the Horse & Greyhound Fund. The €100,000 is a specific contribution that IGB makes to the special entity that it has established to focus on the re-homings of Irish greyhounds - the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. This contribution is additionally matched by a 2% contribution of winning owner’s prizemoney,which in itself derives from the Horse & Greyhound Fund.
In 2018, the total income of the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust was €242,000. This does not take into account the overall spend of the IGB on regulation and welfare matters which will be just short of €2 million in 2019. We continue to expand our welfare function as a priority area under our Strategic Plan 2018-22. A further full time professionally qualified welfare officer was recruited in May 2019.
Since the airing of the programme, the Board has met and agreed a range of additional measures to further enhance the welfare schemes already in place, including its fostering scheme, and to assure both the public and the wider and responsible greyhound community, that we take issues of welfare very seriously.
Any party aware of any breach of welfare regulation or any inadequate or inappropriate practices relating to greyhound welfare should report the matter to the IGB for full investigation.
In terms of looking to the future the Board is in the course of implementing its Strategic Plan 2018-22 and at this point would see the key pillars to be progressed in the areas of care, ownership, breeding, regulation, doping and medication, stadia and tracks, and exports.
Today, I want to focus on the area of care. Further work needs to be done to bring the care and welfare of the greyhound to the highest standard possible. Care and welfare is the priority in all activity relating to greyhounds. It is our intent, in accordance with the commitment in our Strategic Plan, to ‘maintain animal welfare at the centre of our industry’ and to that end devise a three year transformative care plan for the industry.
The primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal rests with its owner.
The owner’s obligations in this regard need to be reinforced and form a legal obligation for which the owner can be held accountable.
The final passage of the Greyhound Racing Ireland Act 2019 provides a significant modernising of the legal framework and the first such overhaul since the Greyhound Industry Act 1958.
A key provision of the Act relates to the introduction of a traceability system for the racing greyhound which has been sought for some time by the IGB.
In addition to the provision of a traceability system for the racing greyhound, the Board is also promoting a number of proposals as a radical rearrangement of responsibility and oversight for the greyhound and the care and welfare of the racing greyhound:
· Increase sanctions and strengthen notification requirements to the ICC as Keeper of the Stud Book, to ensure that transfer of ownerships are promptlynotified at time of the transaction occurring.
In the medium term, a differentiation needs to be made between coursing and racing greyhounds with a separate stud book being established for the racing greyhound.
· Provide for a levy at registration stage in the Stud Book to contribute towards a ‘pension plan’ for the greyhound in retirement. All levies should be paid into a separate ‘Care Fund’ to be established by the Irish Greyhound Board through a Trust with external appointees to monitor the care and welfare programme.
· A levy on attendance income, prize money and a percentage of all sponsorship to be paid into the Care Fund.
· An immediate Expression of Interest process for the provision of greyhound care centres so that greyhounds can lead a healthy life after retirement. These centres will be funded from the Care Fund and a contribution from owners.
· The IGB has secured an ever increasing number of rehomings through the direct activity of, and indirect supports provided by, its established Trust – the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. 1,021 rehomings were achieved in 2018. An initiative is at an advanced stage of discussion with Greyhound Pets of America (GPA) and Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together (FLIGHT) which should secure a very significant increase in international rehomings.
· Engage with the Minister in relation to a set percentage of the Horse & Greyhound Fund allocation being assigned to the separate ‘Care Fund’ to cover the range of initiatives and actions outlined above and set out in the three year transformative plan.
· Where it is necessary that a greyhound be put to sleep then the euthanasia shall only be performed by a veterinary surgeon by the use of lethal injection. This requirement should be extended to all greyhounds (including coursing dogs) by way of an order under the powers contained in the Welfare of Greyhounds Act, 2011.
· We have commissioned a full analysis of, and sought recommendations on, the industry footprint of the future. This analysis is currently being undertaken by Indecon Economic Consultants and we expect that its report will be completed in the Autumn.
In conclusion, Chairman, I wish to strongly emphasise that the IGB is committed to strong regulation of the industry and is committed to following up any breaches of welfare or regulation within the statutory framework available to us. There is no place for cruelty or poor animal welfare practices within the greyhound industry and we will continue to work with all agencies to eradicate any such behaviour.
We will endeavour to respond fully to all of the queries of the Committee and if there is any follow-up required, we will be happy to facilitate any such requests of the Committee.
Thank you Chairman.”